NCAA Division-III Playoffs: R. 2, Saints v. Little Giants
NCAA Division-III Playoffs
No. 9 Thomas More Saints (11-0) vs. No. 7 Wabash Little Giants (11-0)
How They Got Here: The Thomas More Saints dominated the President’s Athletic Conference, going 8-0 and defeating Westminster, the runner-up, by a score of 45-14. The Saints rolled out of the starting gate, winning their first three games by a combined margin of 192-19. Through the first nine weeks of the season the closest an opponent reached them was a 14-point victory over St. Vincent. Thomas More squeaked by Case Western Reserve to end the season, winning 36-32, but opened the playoffs with a decisive 51-21 victory over No. 15 Washington & Lee.
The Saints went to half leading in the contest 28-0 as Goose Cohorn had two touchdown receptions in the second quarter. Quarterback Jason Gebhardt ended the game with four touchdown passes, and backup Brenan Kuntz threw just two passes, but both went for touchdowns. C.T. Tarrant added 145-yards on the ground and a touchdown. The defense was led by Austin Copeland and Johnny Lammers, who each had seven tackles. Copeland also had an interception.
The Wabash Little Giants won the North Coast Athletic Conference for the second season in a row, posting an impressive 9-0 conference record. The Little Giants have dominated their opponents, allowing just 76-points in their first 10-games of the season, which included three shutouts. The closest margin of victory was 24 as Wabash scored at least 34-points in every game.
In their opening round matchup they downed No. 20 Albion 35-14. The visitors actually led 7-6 heading into halftime as the two defenses dominated play through the first two quarters. Albion extended their lead to 14-6 to start the second half, but Wabash took control from there, rattling off 29 unanswered points to easily take the contest. Mason Zurek provided a majority of the offense, scoring all four second half touchdowns, including a 70-yarder that clinched it for the Little Giants. Zurek finished with 331-yards and 4 TDs on 39-carries, an impressive 8.4 yards per carry average.
The Thomas More Saints will use two different quarterbacks and both are deadly, as last week’s game showed. The two have combined for 38 touchdowns through the air and 3 more on the ground. Gebhardt had 21 TDs and 1,770-yards passing, while Kuntz finished with 17 TD passes and 1,414-yards through the air. Either one is capable of leading big scoring drives and Kuntz, a sophomore, is just getting better with each week.
Tarrant is an incredible load to try to stop, rushing for 1,o80-yards and 12 touchdowns. Cohorn leads the team with 61-receptions for 1274-yards, sixth best in the country. He has an unbelievable 20.4 yards per catch average and his 14 TD receptions rank him 14th nationally.
The Saints know how to get pressure on the quarterback, and they have three guys with very high motors who are relentless in their pursuit. Senior Eric Butler finished with 5.5 sacks and an impressive 55-tackles from the defensive line position. Junior linebacker Rodderick Darden led the team with 7.5-sacks and junior Dustin Mitchell added 4.5.
The incredible pressure feeds into a ball-hawk secondary that makes opposing quarterbacks pay when they make mistakes. Freshman Brandon Neal, sophomore Lammers, and senior Ian Gunn each finished with 4-interceptions, and combined for 17-pass breakups. Junior Lemuel Weyer adds 7 more pass defenses.
For the Wabash Little Giants, Zurak is the engine that gets this train moving. He is third in the country with 1,742-yards rushing and his 21 TDs ranks him tied for sixth. He is a great downhill runner with incredible vision in the open field.
Figuring that the Saints are going to load the box, Connor Rice will need to have a big game at the quarterback position for Wabash. He is very careful with the ball, seldom making a mistake that hurts his team. The Little Giants QB has thrown for 1,981-yards and 18 TDs with just 4-interceptions.
The Wabash defense is ridiculously good. They have players that can get after the quarterback and guys on the backend who make big plays as well. Tyler McMullen has 8.5 sacks, followed closely by Connor Karns with 8. Connor Ludwig adds 7 and Ethen Buresh recorded 6 of his own. Overall, Wabash recorded 44-sacks in 11 games this season.
This defense also intercepted 22-passes and forced 14 fumbles. Austin Brown and Delon Pettiford each made five picks and Brian Parks grabbed 4-interceptions. Ludwig not only recorded the 7-sacks but forced 4-fumbles.
Outlook: Both teams have shown that they can dominate games on both sides of the ball. The two quarterbacks for Thomas More present a tough challenge for most teams, but not for Wabash. This is one of the best defenses in the country and they are likely to give Zurak and his offense short fields to work with. This could be close until half, but the Little Giants are going to roll. Take Wabash, 44-17.
By Robert Pannier